Rome, as everyone knows, is the last big tournament before Roland Garros. Quite naturally, people who write, talk and podcast about tennis will wonder how Rome reshapes the calculus for the French Open.
To a certain unavoidable extent, Rome DOES influence the French Open, if only because Rome results lead to the seedings for Roland Garros. That matters. Injuries suffered in Rome, if significant enough, CAN matter for Paris, since the amount of recovery time is relatively minimal. If Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic meet in Sunday’s Rome final, we are all going to wonder how that match changes the dynamics at Court Philippe Chatrier in early June. Oui, Rome influences Paris to a certain extent.
However, Rome isn’t a guarantee of what happens in Paris — ask Elina Svitolina and Alexander Zverev the past few years. Ask 2017 Rome semifinalist John Isner (who didn’t do well in Paris) or 2017 Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray (who met in the Roland Garros semifinals).
It is often worth explaining or at least exploring how today’s tennis matches relate to the next big major tournament on the calendar.
Yet, there are also times when one should simply celebrate the present moment and not get caught up in what today means for tomorrow (or next week).
Thursday at the Rome tour stop is one of those times.
When players are asked to play two matches in one day, the normal rhythm and normal circumstances attached to tennis matches fly out the window. Some players who would have liked to prepare more are unable to prepare. Some players who probably would have lost matches under “normal” conditions suddenly get a day of rest and face a comparatively tired opponent, giving them an unusually good chance of winning.
Some players were disadvantaged by a lack of rest but won two matches anyway. They deserve a lot of praise and positive recognition.
Kiki Bertens did that. So did Jo Konta. So did Fernando Verdasco.
As I write this article, the three members of the Big 3 were either playing a second match of the day or had not yet taken the court for their second match.
Among all the players who won two matches in one day on Thursday, none did heavier lifting — at least if the caliber of opponent is the central measure — than Kiki Mladenovic.
Yes, Verdasco beating Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov is up there on the list, but the two players Mladenovic defeated — Belinda Bencic and Ashleigh Barty — have been the two fastest-rising WTA players outside the top five this year. Bencic has moved from No. 55 at the start of 2019 to the top 15. Barty had been a solid round-of-16-level player at big tournaments but has made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, won Miami, and reached the quarters in Madrid. She is on the doorstep of the top five and looks like a top-tier title contender in the sport.
Verdasco’s win over Thiem is a big one, but Karen Khachanov has struggled this year. Mladenovic beat two in-form players, not merely one.
We could ask what this means for Paris, and to be sure, Mladenovic’s two wins on Thursday certainly reflect a trajectory of improvement under coach Sascha Bajin. Nevertheless, when players are playing two matches in one day, that does not replicate normal match or tournament conditions.
Mladenovic and all the other players who won two matches on Thursday in Rome should simply enjoy the considerable satisfaction they ought to derive from all those points won, all those dollars earned, all those specific scoreboard situations mastered, all those formidable opponents defeated.
Paris can wait. Rome on Thursday was a feast of tennis laid out before our eyes. One can praise the athletes who sipped from the cup of victory, without trying to attach these double wins to the calculus at Roland Garros.